Unlike the past when technology eliminated some jobs but created others, the trend in innovation today is toward job elimination. (“In the Future, Will There be Any Work Left for People to do?” by Geoff Colvin, Fortune, June 16, 2014, pgs. 193-200.) According to writer Geoff Colvin, the change has been subtle and has developed over 4 stages. The first came with the industrial age when machines replaced skilled craftsmen. Only unskilled laborers were needed to perform the repetitive tasks of an assembly line. In stage 2, robots took over most of these repetitive chores while the demand for an educated workforce grew, one that could design and maintain computer systems, for example. Stage 3 began in the 1980s when computers took over medium-skilled functions like record filing, accounting and bookkeeping. During this period, high-skilled workers continued to be needed as were those without them but who had the manual dexterity for some jobs which robots lacked.
Stage 4, the era of information technology, is about to affect all skill levels. The need for lawyers will decline because big data will replace the armies of young attorneys currently engaged in law research. Doctors increasingly will rely on robots to perform delicate surgeries. Even taxi drivers will disappear when cars learn to drive themselves.
Jobs that require the human touch will survive, according to Colvin. Mediation, the judiciary, counseling, hospice and medical services are prime examples. They employ right brain functions and a robot, no matter how well it mimics human emotions, would be no comfort in times of stress.
Colvin is not alone in his concern about the jobs outlook. A conservative economist like Larry Summers who championed bank bailouts as Treasury Secretary under George W. Bush admits he is nervous. (Ibid, pg. 196-7) Without some distribution formula for wealth in the future, a few individuals might end up owning the world while the rest of us are condemned to poverty. (See blog 10/28/13) Waiting for the economic Tsunami is not an option. A national discussion on wealth distribution is needed now.